Gibbon, the Secular Scholar
Gibbon may have been a man of his time but he was also master of his craft in deploying facts to show history (through the medium of the Roman Empire) as self-generating and self-explanatory, writes Roy Porter.
Since, as a religious sceptic, Gibbon's only hope of immortality lay in the fame of his book, this eclipse is drastic. It is, however, not hard to explain. Today's reading public is not given to poring over what Gibbon called 'corpulent volumes' such as his, running to nearly a million and a half words. In any case, the idea of Rome – its empire, its Church, its grandeur – no longer excites in us that mingled reverence and repulsion which fascinated the Augustans or, for that matter, the Victorians.